‘Rituals are not natural– we make them, and adapt them to our present requirement… Therein lies our freedom’– Margaret Visser, Rituals of Dinner.
Dissertation research has led me to uncover some incredibly fascinating, worthwhile reads, just like Rituals of Dinner. It has also made me realise that the title of any book may provide a hint of its scope, but never the insightful overlaps with other academic fields. It’s the most amazing feeling to be able to link a myriad different fields of interests to your own, or use their words to fit original insight. It’s actually been really rather fun to start archival research for the first time ever, poring over monstrously lengthy bits of letters and records to suss out their meat. Scour, amend, learn, watch. At the age of 21, it feels as if the world is at your feet. Just recently I had a small and bad mango. Lips puckered and I scowled. It was so full of potential, plucked too early. One shall not be like that mango.
Over the weekend I thought I’d go back to my roots and re-visit a personal favourite recipe of mine– my fudgy brownie squares. This time, I thought I’d amp them up a little with a special icing, made with mushy deglet noor dates (though use Medjool if you have them) and coconut milk. There are so many frosting options out there but this one is special with the bits left in. You know, bits. The stuff that keeps Ben&Jerry’s running, and people on their toes. What is Phish food without the phish? Speaking of which, I really hope they come out with a vegan version of that, soon. There is a smooth, innocent feel to elements left untouched and pure in flavour, such as a perfect scoop of pistachio ice cream. But couple that with textural contrast, say, the crisp shatter of the waffle cone underneath, and you’re 10 times better off. Salted caramel with crispy bits? Ummm yes. Perhaps that is just the greed in me, though it does depend on mood. Sometimes, an innocent scoop of plain vanilla, or a plain, smooth brownie after your loyal avocad itoast, is the perfect treat.
My old brownie recipe is reliable and definitely can be veganised, but I modified these to be especially squishy (or squidgy, I’ve really been loving that word recently) and chockfull of lush dark chocolate. The old method of whisking until the batter pulls away from the sides of the bowl is not necessary here, but they still end up having chewy edges (best!) and a thick, ooey and gooey centre. This recipe takes half the time, and is thus double the fun.
Fudgy Brownies with a date-coconut caramel frosting (makes 9 brownies in a 9×9-inch pan)
For the brownies:
250g (2 cups) plain flour (you could also consider using half whole wheat and half plain)
420g (a little less than 2 cups) sugar (I use a mix of granulated and coconut sugar)
80g cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
150g chopped vegan chocolate (I love Green and Black’s 70%, but use whatever you want! Lindt’s is wonderful too)
1 flax egg, made my mixing 1 tbsp ground flaxseed with 2 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla extract
480ml (2 cups) non-dairy milk (I used almond)
40g (around ¼ cup) melted coconut oil or vegan butter (I used vegan butter and just melted it in the microwave)
For the caramel:
Handful of chopped dates– soak them in some hot water first for around a minute if they are not soft Medjool dates or something similar
Half a can of full-fat coconut milk
Preheat your oven to 350F (180C) and line a square 9×9-inch baking pan with parchment paper. First, make the flax egg by mixing the ground flaxseed and water in a small bowl and set it aside. In a bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients, including the chopped chocolate. Then add everything else- the flax egg, melted coconut oil/butter, vanilla and milk, and mix well until everything is just combined. The batter should be smooth, not too sticky, and slightly wet. Place in the oven for 25 minutes. While it is baking, blitz the dates and coconut milk in a blender until the dates are broken up. Make sure the coconut milk has at least half of the solid top you see when you open the can. Leave some of the bits of dates in there for texture, but if you prefer, you could blend them all the way to make a smooth and thick frosting.
Let the brownies cool for 10 minutes before slathering on the frosting and cutting into squares.